Quebec plans to give the second dose of the novel coronavirus vaccine within a maximum of three months for patients who have already received their first dose.
Health Minister Christian Dubé says the province’s strategy is “clear” and that the government wants to vaccinate “as many vulnerable people as possible” as the health crisis brings an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths.
“It’s a race against time,” he told reporters Thursday, adding that saving lives is a “moral imperative” as the second wave of the pandemic continues to bear down.
Doing so will also reduce the pressure on Quebec’s fragile health system, he added.
“Our experts are recommending the second dose be recommended 42 to 90 days after the first,” he said.
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Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, which propose intervals of 21 and 28 days respectively. Canada’s vaccine advisory committee has also recommended the second dose of approved COVID-19 vaccines be given a maximum of 42 days after the first, but Dubé says the committee has acknowledged that the interval can be extended when necessary, based on the disease’s progression.
Richard Massé, a senior public health adviser, said the change would allow up to 500,000 seniors who are most at risk of complications — including those in private residences and those aged 80 and up — to receive their vaccine several weeks earlier than initially planned.
He said the justification to extend the interval was based on the “experience of working with many vaccines through time,” which shows that vaccine immunity does not suddenly drop off within a month or two.
However, Massé said Quebec was carefully monitoring the efficacy of the shot and would immediately give second doses if it saw evidence of decreased immunity in certain groups, such as the elderly.
Dubé says health officials will be able to reduce the interval between first and second doses once more vaccines are available.
Since the rollout began last month, Quebec has given about 115,000 vaccines to two priority groups: residents in long-term care homes and health-care employees.
Dubé says more than half of long-term care residents have now received a first dose of the vaccine. Under the plan, vaccinations are expecting to start in private seniors’ residences on Jan. 25, he added.
On Thursday, Quebec reported some regions of the province have few or no doses of COVID-19 vaccine remaining as the vaccination effort outpaces the speed of delivery.
The province says the Gaspé region, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Nord-du-Québec and the James Bay Cree Nation territories are out or almost out of vaccine. New deliveries are expected Friday or Saturday.
Four other regions had almost used up all their doses but received new supplies Tuesday.
‘They should give us the next dose’
Mendy Fellig lives at Maimonides, a long-term care home in Montreal. He has already received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He believes Quebec should stick with the timeline it was given for the vaccines.
“They should go with the science they do know,” he said. “If they want, they could experiment down the road. Right now, the current directives is to take it three weeks after.”
More experiments and data are needed to make that kind of decision to delay the second dose, Fellig said. He’s worried it may not be as effective if pushed back too long.
“In the meantime, they should give us the next dose.”
‘We must remain extremely vigilant’
The health minister also stressed that while vaccines are a key element in fighting the pandemic, Quebecers need to continue abiding by health measures to stem the tide of COVID-19.
“Vaccination is an important measure but we must remain extremely vigilant,” he said.
Quebec topped 1,500 hospitalizations linked to the pandemic this week. Montreal, which accounts for more than half of those patients, is adding regular and intensive care unit beds.
Dubé says the rising number of patients is a result of the high daily tallies of new cases in recent weeks.
“The good news will be if you see a stabilization in hospitalizations,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Felicia Parrillo and The Canadian Press